Hiking and Coffee: How to Make Coffee While Hiking

Hiking and Coffee: How to Make Coffee While Hiking

People often ask how to make coffee while hiking. and we’re here to answer that question. We’ll go over all the different ways you can make your coffee when out on the trail, and what types of coffee might be best for each situation. Each method comes with its own pros and cons, each of which should be considered based on your trip, and whether you’re backpacking, hiking, or camping. No matter which method you choose, pair it with an awesome camping mug and the beauty of nature, and you’re sure to have a special moment. 

How to Make Coffee While Hiking or Camping

Whether you’re out on a short hike, an overnight camping adventure, or multi-day backpacking trip, enjoying a hot coffee in nature can be a awesome experience. For some, it’s the best way to start their day and get them moving; for others, a cup of joe is an integral part of their camping experience (you can’t feel more at home in nature than sitting around your campfire having a hot drink!). How do we make this magical brew while tramping through the forest?

Coffee makers are great for RV camping trips but what about when you’re spending days hiking between campsites? There are two main ways that hikers enjoy drinking their daily dose: bringing a portable coffee maker or instant coffee. Let’s look at the pros and cons of each method.

Coffee Makers for Hiking

The first option requires the most planning ahead, but once you arrive at your campsite it’s a breeze! The idea with this method is to purchase a portable coffee maker, pack pre-ground beans in either paper or plastic bags (as if you were making sandwiches for lunch), and bring along all “coffee” related items you enjoy: sugar/sweetener packets, etc. Then when you get to camp just boil some water on your stove, prepare the coffee, add everything together and enjoy! Our favorite coffee maker for camping is an Aeropress. It makes a great cup of coffee quickly, weighs practically nothing, and is completely plastic so it’s super durable.

If you have a jetboil, another great option is this Grande Coffee Press built for several of their products. It’s featherlight, and works like a more traditional French press. If you want to carry the weight (or are camping), Stanley makes an all in one French press, as well as a complete coffee travel system that’s really cool!

One of the biggest cons to this method is that you have to lug around all those extra items; for some people, it’s not worth it, depending on how far (and strenuous) your hike/backpacking trip will be. We prefer this method most for car camping trips or for RV campers. 

Instant Coffee for Hiking

A lighter option for those longer hikes or lighter packs is instant coffee. The best part about instant coffee is how easy it is. Boil water, add the grounds to your cup, add water, and stir. Now, I know what you are thinking, instant coffee….. GROSS…but that is so far from reality. In fact, in the most recent years, instant coffee has come extremely far. There’s a ton of great companies out there that make great instant coffee. My personal favorite is the Starbucks Via Instant or Alpine Start.

If you are still skeptical of instant coffee, check out this short article on how Starbucks changed instant coffee.

There’s not a lot of cons to instant coffee for hiking, but one of the noticeable ones for me is that it’s hard to replace fresh-brewed coffee. That being said, carrying no equipment, and having a good cup of coffee at a moment’s notice is hard to beat.

Prepare Your Own Instant Coffee

Another alternative is to prepare your own instant coffee ahead of time. Either purchase grounds or grind your own favorite beans, then package them in a paper coffee filter tied shut with unflavored dental floss. Treat this like a tea bag, dunking it in hot water in a coffee mug for 2-4+ minutes (depending on how strong you like your coffee) before removing the bag and drinking!

While this is one of the most affordable ways to make a cup of coffee on trail, the taste won’t be as good as a specifically-made instant coffee or coffee prepared in an Aeropress. Plus, you’ll have to pack out the coffee grounds.

Use a Portable Drip

Sea to Summit makes a plastic coffee dripper that mimics the effects of pour overs such as Chemex. One of the biggest pros of this method is that it doesn’t use single use filters, and instead has a built in reusable mesh filter. On the other hand, it does require more clean up and you must pack out your coffee grounds.

How Caffeine Affects Hikers

Now that we’ve talked about how to make coffee while hiking, let’s discuss caffeine and its effects on hikers. Most people know that caffeine is a stimulant, but what does that mean for someone who’s trying to hike up a mountain?

For shorter hikes, caffeine hasn’t been shown to boost performance. On the other hand, for strenuous or long distance hikes, coffee can provide some benefits. It can increase your stamina by prompting your cells to use fat for energy (versus your limited glycogen stores) and tricking your brain into thinking it’s not working as hard as it actually is (which gives you a mental boost to keep going). 

Caffeine can have different effects on people, depending on their tolerance level. For some, caffeine will give them the energy they need to hike further and faster; for others it might make them feel jittery or anxious. How long the effects of caffeine last also varies from person to person – it could be two hours, four hours, or even eight! You should never try coffee or anything new on the day of a big hike or adventure. Test your reactions beforehand, so you know what to expect.

Why Do Coffee and the Outdoors Go So Well Together?

Aside from the fact that both caffeine and fresh air are great for keeping you alert and focused, there’s something about being in nature that just makes coffee taste better. Maybe it’s because we’re taking the time to brew a cup instead of just grabbing a quick one on our way out the door; maybe it’s because we’re so appreciative of having hot water available to us. One thing is for sure, a hot cup of coffee perfect way to warm up in a tent or while out on the trail!

No matter what the reason is, I’m glad that coffee and the outdoors go together like PB&J! And now you know all you need to know about how to make your perfect cup while enjoying everything nature has to offer. Cheers!

The Verdict

After many years of drinking coffee while camping and on backpacking trips, our go-to is Starbucks Instant Coffee. It’s just hard to beat the lightweight packability of a single little packet over carrying gear for a more complex brew.  On car camping trips, we splurge a little and use an Aeropress with a small hand grinder (like Handground) to brew the perfect cup, but it’s different to have this gear when you don’t have to carry it on your back. If you’re into coffee, we would recommend trying these methods first before investing in gear that you must carry. 

FAQ

What should you do with coffee grounds while hiking or backpacking?

Following the 7 Leave No Trace Principles, you should pack out the coffee grounds with the rest of your trash. Because of their strong scent, consider storing them in a scent blocking bag (and in the proper animal resistant container for that area) and away from camp when you aren’t hiking. 

How do you make coffee in the backcountry?

While a lot of people rough it and recommend cowboy coffee, we prefer the upgraded version in the form of a packaged instant coffee, like Starbucks Via Instant. The weight different is minimal, and you get much better tasting coffee. Simply boil water, then add the package contents and stir.

Can you dump coffee grounds while camping?

No. Even though they’re biodegradable, coffee grounds should be packed out with your trash, according to the 7 Leave No Trace principles. 

How do you brew coffee while hiking?

If you would like to brew coffee while hiking, you must carry a way to boil water, such as a backpacking stove. Once you have that, there’s many options for brewing coffee, but our favorite is using Starbucks Via Instant coffee, which comes in a small pouch that you just stir into your boiling water. 

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